I am gliding into 2022 with an undying commitment to simplicity. Like bundles of sticks, I intend to find strength with those that choose to stand together with me. It’s a commitment after all and you are either in or out as I follow my star. I am also prepared to endure all that life throws along the way in 2022. Like chaos. I went into Christmas Day for example prepared for the chaos of a merry day. Like heads without bodies, I watched as my kids rambled through all they got. Watched as the chaos continues to unfold through the holidays where all work ways are banned. I remember my dad and the look of content on his face this time of the year. Joyful that it is now my turn to observe his contentment with how merry days with chaos end. With kids of my own. I miss my dad terribly. And in 2022, I intend to find beauty in chaos like the three wisemen did with Christ.

Yesterday we began an adventure into 8 days of Christmas fun.

In fact, we are living our lives through a book written and illustrated by my daughter.

All I can say is that because of her, my world is Belle.

Like Lotanna Belle, there are no limits.

She is one who opens our hearts to truly remember the love of our fathers, every time, beautifully.

Belle, writes, and illustrates, and shows us love that reminds me of my father’s sweet embrace.

She lives out her live in words more elegant than sweet. An elegant love. Her love burrows deeply into my heart. Deeply like a stone, crushing it, until it’s all love. That’s what reading my daughter’s words does to me these days.

A world fully Belle is genuinely Belle.

There is a Belle in all things, all around my world and this Christmas is Belle all because of her. I am loved. She makes me remember the elegant love my father showered on us this time of the year too. He is so missed.

Born in the year of a pandemic, I remember when he started to crawl. He crawled as if he was ready to walk. He walked when he turned 9 months. He has been walking ever since. Late last month, we started to remove all the protective features around our stairs. By this month, we removed all of them. We had quite a few and the thought of a fall was forever on our minds. I knew we would get here one day. Just didn’t want the day to come so soon. Watching him grow has been everything. Now my baby walks up and down the stairs all on his own. He has mastered the stairs too all on his own. And that’s a feat worth celebrating. This is also what it means to be a toddler. Every aspect of his being, full and free. Wisdom he never knew now blossoms through his life with delight. Watching as he follows directly in its path even with walking up and down the stairs is a prayer answered fully. There is no end to your treasures and like an olive tree you are loaded with fruits that will continue to tower to the clouds with every step you take, even up and down these stairs. Keep moments like this.

Everything changes, the moment you hear the word. Life flashes through in a second. None of us can cheat life. None can escape the battle of death. I have tried to understand 2021. Fast runners never win their race. A fish still gets caught in a net. No matter how hard I tried, I still can’t understand. Why cancer? Why us? Our fists are clenched.

Imagination is a transformative force. It enhances, sustains, and frees mind hungry to unleash their dreams. I have been hungry for awhile. Imagination has been filling my soul. It has helped and continues to help me rethink all I thought I knew about a people, their ways, their heritage, even their landscape fully and freely. I have been reimagining history, if only for my mind for now. With every one post I write here, the is one or two never shared. It’s almost like I write in secrecy and this time imagination is my muse, re-imagination my watchtower. I have been rethinking all we know about a place, my place of birth, my heritage, the place my people call home. To fully make sense of this re-imagination phase that I find myself in these days, my son and I went to the Saint Louis City Foundry yesterday. He had a doctors appointment not to far off and on our way back home I wanted to see first hand how the site which was once an abandoned area has now been reimagined as a food hall. I was impressed. Maybe it was the diverse array of food vendors at the hall, a Senegalese one being my favorite, but the entire space reimagined as a food hall made me understand just why we all need to be in the business of transforming ourselves often. No we don’t have to transform ourselves like the foundry, but every little act of imagination goes a long way to retell stories often absent from history. Stories about people unknown. I am in the business of imagination these days and I look forward to how far this journey takes me. City Foundry by the way is 100% astounding. You should go there if ever in Saint Louis.

I am raising a boy whose on the spectrum. He is becoming more than I ever dreamed of. More than I ever hoped for. More than I ever thought he would become. He is also doing it his way. Sometimes his ways are out of sight. We are all astound. Here is a boy that barely said a word at 3. A boy for whom meltdowns were all he knew. Until things changed. I still pinch myself as I have not really taken the time to truly uncover all we did in the beginning. And we did a lot.

If you told me back then that we would get to this place one day, I would not believe you. He was kicked out of his first school at age 2 after attending for 2 days. The odds were completely against us. My own child was kicked out of school before he could say his name. I still remember crying by myself that day wondering where to begin. I remember calling a helpline for special needs kids in Georgia that day too. The person on the other line had to have been an Angel. After briefly chatting with her calming me down, she asked what we both did for a living. I said I was a researcher and dad was a resident in neurology. Her response, I wouldn’t worry to much about your son then. I asked why. She said because we would both use our gifts for him and that’s more than most kids on the spectrum would have. Looking back, she was right. When we learnt through research that a drug for cancer had speech properties, my son was on it. When he had a series of nonstop laughing episode, and my husband remembered something about the brain and laughter, my son’s brain was observed via EEG which uncovered mini seizures while he slept. Our gifts were indeed useful for him.

Today at age seven, I keep pinching myself every time I have a heart to heart with him or watch as he reads a book. These days Dog man’s series are all he knows. All he is obsessed about. That he reads makes my heart swell. His ways are still forming, still making sense of this world, still stimming, still repeating things that make no sense, still involves play that makes no sense too, but all of it, all his ways are perfect by design. These days, I would not trade any of this for any sense of normalcy. Not with him. He is perfect by design and even when he tries, all his ways are good. It’s the smallest things with him, the hugs, the meltdowns too, all of them combine, remind me just how blessed we are as a family. To be in the midst of a child on the spectrum is a blessing. One that I am extremely thankful I got to witness with my own eyes. Today he is in a Christmas play in school. The boy who barely spoke at 2, was kicked out of school at 2 as well, is in a play at school at 7. His ways remain out of sight with great days and days with good tries. The sky is not a limit and I remain hopeful for what the future will bring his way.

Let no one silence or suppress your truth. Whether unpleasant or uncomfortable. May no one stifle or suffocate your significance or shared responsibilities. Scam or strangle your sensibilities or collective senses with lies. As you strive for uncomfortable representations beyond unpleasant shadows. Rather may you continue to connect and commune. Reveal and reveal. Every unpleasant or uncomfortable truth. As you voice all there is to voice for a people long denied their voice. People still absent in images like this below. The unpleasant truth is that we are not all the same, not all man, and not all equal never mind their comforting lies. Pandemics are not individually focused, never mind the comforting lies many still perpetuate. Vaccines too are not for individuals neither are masks or your decisions that you think affects you alone. It doesn’t. Omicron is here because we forgot that we are a people first. Pandemics are not concerned with individuals. Never have and never will. There are no personal responsibilities in pandemics. Only shared ones. No individual responsibilities too. Only collective ones. Individualistic countries won’t get it. Collective ones will. And pandemics will still not be concerned about individuals. Only what the collective do. These are unpleasant truths worth spreading.

Like many, I have been reading and rereading all the bell hooks books I have in my possession. I have been struck with how urgent her work is for those desperate for word work that awakens us all to our possibilities. bell hooks was a prolific writer. As I looked through her writings, I gathered she knew writing was supposed to do something. You don’t pen these many diverse thoughts if you don’t expect the words to do something. That’s the urgency I felt just looking at book after book. She knew writing was supposed to do something. Not things that keep you powerless or inarticulate or unable to assert your agency. To her and from what I have read these past days, writing is supposed to be something meaningful. Writing is supposed to be courageous that all I can say to you this morning is that you should keep writing. Your words matter.

Keep it because writing is supposed to reveal. Illuminate. Challenge. Or simple stir up. Writing is not supposed to traumatize. Exploit. Oppress. Or simply cause suffering. Rather writing is supposed to testify. Best witness. Feel. Or simply engage. Writing is not supposed to shame. Violate. Humiliate. Or simply frighten. Rather writing is supposed to nurture. Heal. Uplift. Or simply affirm. Writing is not supposed to dehumanize, distort, deny, or simply destroy. Writing is supposed love. Celebrate. Remember. Or simply awaken. Writing is not supposed to silence. Dominate. Punish. Or simply exile. Rather writing is supposed to resist. Critique. Demand. Or simply voice. Writing is not supposed to threaten. Marginalize. Alienate. Or simply colonize. Rather writing is supposed to value. Imagine. Desire. Or simply create. Writing is not supposed to abandon. Diminish. Ridicule. Or simply ignore. Writing is supposed to liberate. Burn. Renew. Or simply free. Writing is not supposed to erase. Deprive. Annihilate. Or simply be racisit. Writing is supposed to be radical. Sustain. Open. Or simply transform. However you choose to write, I hope you use it to reveal, illuminate, challenge, stir up, testify, bear witness, feel, engage, nurture, heal, uplift, affirm, love, celebrate, remember, awaken, resist, critique, demand, voice, value, imagine, desire, create, liberate, burn, renew, free, be radical, sustain, open and transform.

Sixty-nine seems like a very odd age to rest. My dad left at sixty-nine. I have never felt completely at ease with it. We are all supposed to have 70 years. 80 years if we are strong. So leaving at 69 just doesn’t sit right with me. bell hooks left at 69. I am sure if I created a list, I would come across many other notable figures that left at 69. We will all one day return to what we are. Dust. We will all last like a dream too. Life is short. The only thing left is to be wise and speak our hearts to God. No one will understand. But he will. Especially when you open your heart and talk to him unafraid. My heart is open and I am wondering why 69. Her gifts were immeasurable.

Nestled within book after book by bell hooks were hidden treasures. To her seeing ourselves should be pleasure. For there is power, freedom too when you see yourself. With her, I saw myself. There were no boundaries. Light was revealed in unthinkable ways. Light that remain uninhibited with each passing day. I am able to write out all in my head because she allowed me to see myself for what I am: A woman. A black woman with value.

She once wrote that many people have difficulty with appreciating black women as we are. With her, I was appreciated just as I am. With her, I can cry like Sojourner Truth once did, ain’t I a woman? With her, I am as outstanding as Anna Julia Cooper and my voice will cry out in these Midwest rivers. bell hooks introduced me to her. With her, my horizons were extended, my empathy broadened, all because I finally stopped to smell the Dahilas in my life. They were many. With her, I touched nature in ways that stirred my spirits. She cleared a path for me to see myself, know myself, love myself. She helped me keep what mattered to me. Her death at 69 years is a blow and continues to weigh heavy on my heart this morning. I am consoled by the fact that because of her, I will forever learn all about love, know what it means to belong, teach communities how to love, how to transgress too, use art like writing to heal, teach myself how to yearn for things like fresh fields of green grass while I boldly declare to anyone listening, ain’t I a woman. I am. I am all woman and black and loved and blessed in light always.